Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pope Ratzinger I and politics

Sid Blumenthal sees an alliance already functioning between the new Pope and the Christian Right American President: Holy warriors Salon 04/22/05.

President Bush treated his final visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City on June 4, 2004, as a campaign stop. After enduring a public rebuke from the pope about the Iraq war, Bush lobbied Vatican officials to help him win the election. "Not all the American bishops are with me," he complained, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He pleaded with the Vatican to pressure the bishops to step up their activism against abortion and gay marriage in the states during the campaign season.

About a week later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the U.S. bishops, pronouncing that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion were committing a "grave sin" and must be denied Communion. He pointedly mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" -- an obvious reference to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic. If such a Catholic politician sought Communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be ordered to "refuse to distribute it." Any Catholic who voted for this "Catholic politician," he continued, "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." During the closing weeks of the campaign, a pastoral letter was read from pulpits in Catholic churches repeating the ominous suggestion of excommunication. Voting for the Democrat was nothing less than consorting with the forces of Satan, collaboration with "evil."

A satirical comment about how we can all be relieved that we've only had one Catholic President, otherwise we might have the Church meddling in American politics from its headquarters in Rome, would probably be in order at this point.

But this is disgusting.  Fortunately, most American priests and bishops have more sense than that.  I'm not sure what the pastoral letter was to which Blumenthal refers in the last part of that quotation.  But I do remember a case a number of years ago where a Democrat was running for Congress in a pretty safely Republican district, and her priest started refusing her communion over her position on abortion laws.  The backlash against this kind of clerical arrogance was enought for her to win the election.

So I'm not sure that Blumenthal's conclusion on the 2004 election is justified: "The key to [Bush's] kingdom was turned by Cardinal Ratzinger."

But this is one of the things that worry me about Ratzinger's selection as Pope.  Ratzinger, also known as God's rottweiler, has been one of the most prominent reactionaries in the Church for the last two decades.  And this is an example of the kind of mischief - and worse - that we unfortunately can expect from him.

Blumenthal's article talks a bit about Otto von Bismarck's "culture fight" (Kulturkampf) against the Catholic Church in Germany after he and Emperor William I successfully unified the country.  The German Kulturfampf of that time is an important event in the history of democratic separation of church and state.  It had a great deal of influence on shaping the German democratic understanding of the role of religion in a democratic society.

Blumenthal clearly has a more historical understanding - and a more honest explanation - of the traditional American understanding on that issue than Mullah James Dobson.  Blumenthal writes:

The right wing of the Catholic Church is as mobilized as any other part of the religious right. It is seizing control of Catholic universities, exerting influence at other universities, stigmatizing Catholic politicians who fail to adhere to its conservative credo, pressing legislation at the federal and state levels, seeking government funding and sponsorship of the church, and vetting political appointments inside the White House and the administration -- imposing in effect a religious test of office. The Bush White House encourages these developments under the cover of moral uplift as it forges a political machine uniting church and state -- as was done in premodern Europe.

The American Revolution, the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were fought for explicitly to uproot the traces in American soil of ecclesiastical power in government, which the Founders to a man regarded with horror, revulsion and foreboding.

The Founders werethe ultimate representatives of the Enlightenment. They were not anti-religious, though few if any of them were orthodox or pious. Washington never took Communion and refused to enter the church, while his wife did so. Benjamin Franklin believed that all organized religion was suspect. James Madison thought that established religion did as much harm to religion as it did to free government, twisting the word of God to fit political expediency, thereby throwing religion into the political cauldron. And Thomas Jefferson, allied with his great collaborator Madison, conducted decades of sustained and intense political warfare against the existing and would-be clerisy. His words, engraved on the Jefferson Memorial, are a direct reference to established religion: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

American Christians would do well to remember that the Christian churches have done very well in America in the environment in which church and state have been effectively separated.  There's a lot of folk wisdom about the hazards of getting what you wish for.  Bruce Springsteen, in one of his songs that shows a heavily Catholic influence, came up with his own:  "With every wish there comes a curse."

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